With free agency, the draft and schedules all settled, it feels like we're about 95 percent of the way toward every NFL team's roster for training camp, which gives us a very good idea of who the key players will be in the 2017 season. Given that we can't predict injuries -- a fact of the game that is unavoidable and often monumental -- everything that we need to start projecting the results for next season is just about in.
Which is probably why Football Outsiders released its updated mean win projections for ESPN Insider this week, a projection of each team's win total and an educated guess of their records and final season standings for 2017. They came to these conclusions with a combination of FO's own DVOA ratings from the past three years (with 2016 being much more heavily-weighted than 2014, 2015), strength of schedule, quarterback quality, rookie additions (highly drafted defensive players have shown to have a more immediate impact than offensive rookies) and general regressions when it comes to things like turnover ratios and personnel changes.
The end result had the Patriots and Seahawks as the top seeds in the AFC and NFC, respectively, plus new division champions in the AFC South and NFC South. That doesn't mean that these are now the expected results and FO must stand by any projection that goes wrong; this is just a statistical model with a lot of good math behind it that gives us an idea of what to expect.
Let's look at the three most underrated and overrated teams headed into next season, if you believe what the Football Outsiders projections believe about these franchises in 2017.
FO Projection: 6-10, Strength of Schedule difficulty: 7th
It's not often that a new head coach inherits an elite defense, but that's what Vance Joseph and first-year defensive coordinator Joe Woods have in Denver. Just one season removed from a Super Bowl championship, the Broncos were 8-4 before late road losses to the Titans and Chiefs doomed their playoff hopes. It's not hard to imagine a scenario in which they could have gone 11-5 and made another postseason run with a defense that still stifles the dreams of quarterbacks, allowing only 13 touchdowns with a passer rating against of 69.7.
Do they have an improved offense, and specifically a better run game, though?
First-round pick Garett Bolles was the best offensive lineman in the draft and is an upgrade at whatever spot he ends up occupying, as is top free agent guard Ronald Leary. Running back C.J. Anderson returns after missing 11 games, as does 2016 fourth-rounder Devontae Booker, but they'll also be joined by Jamaal Charles, a familiar face who has rushed for 987 yards against the Broncos in his career, the most he has against any team.
Denver may have not made a change at quarterback, but it may not have needed to. Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch are both young, with interesting skills, and could still develop into above-league-average players. Either player will benefit from the improvements on the offensive line and at running back. In general, the Broncos seem to have gotten better on offense while still retaining what makes them special on defense, so 6-10 seems like a major under-shot, by potentially four wins or more.
FO Projection: 8-8, SOS 29th
Though they are projected to win the division, the Titans can do much more than that. There are three good reasons: They went 9-7 last season and seem to have only improved, they play in the AFC South and Marcus Mariota is poised to make the jump from good to great.
Tennessee had two first-round picks and chose receiver Corey Davis and cornerback Adoree' Jackson. Wide receivers Davis, Rishard Matthews, Tajae Sharpe and third-round pick Taywan Taylor and tight ends Delanie Walker, Jace Amaro and third-rounder Jonnu Smith give Mariota a set of weapons in the passing game that will take him to Pro Bowl levels. On the ground, DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry and (again) Mariota will make "exotic smashmouth" the key phrase of the season in the AFC. With an elite offensive line thanks to their bookend stars at tackle, Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin, the Titans could have a top-three offense.
The defense isn't bad, either. Pro Bowlers Jurrell Casey and Brian Orakpo set the tone with what everyone else on defense should be striving for, including Jackson, Derrick Morgan, Avery Williamson and free agent signees Logan Ryan, Sylvester Williams and Jonathan Cyprien. Tennessee ranked 24th on defense, per Football Outsiders, last season, with most of its struggles coming in the secondary. If the Titans improve with Ryan, Jackson and Cyprien, they could finish in the 12-13-win range and secure a first-round bye in the AFC.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
FO Projection: 7-9, SOS 17th
The Bucs' nine-year playoff drought is about to end. Though FO has projected them to finish in last place in the NFC South, I believe that the opposite could end up coming to fruition and the reason is as simple as having slightly more defensive talent in a division that is closely packed together.
No division has a set of QBs like the NFC South -- Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston -- but I won't be surprised if Winston is the clear best of the bunch in two years. The former No. 1 overall pick made improvements in his second season and may not even be scratching the surface of what he could do, especially after Tampa Bay added DeSean Jackson and first-rounder O.J. Howard in the offseason.
On defense, Gerald McCoy holds it down up front and will be looking for his sixth straight Pro Bowl appearance. Lavonte David's continuous Pro Bowl snubs (he has one in five seasons despite being a consistent top-10 linebacker) don't take away from the fact that he's a premier defensive player. And the Bucs have some interesting talent in the secondary, including Brent Grimes, Vernon Hargreaves, free agent signee J.J. Wilcox and second-round pick Justin Evans. Tampa Bay could conceivably improve to having a top-10 offense and defense, perhaps enough so to win the division.
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FO Projection: 10-6, SOS 2nd
Surely 10-6 or better is within the Cowboys' grasp, but so is 6-10, and it is closer than many think. First, Dallas must hope that Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott can come very close to duplicating the success they had as rookies, and that's a taller order than it would be for most second-year pros. Prescott and Elliott were each legitimate MVP candidates in 2016, which of course is a good thing, but is there much room to get better? Prescott threw only four interceptions on 459 attempts, a number that seems certain to go up. Elliott had a hair under 2,000 total yards, a number that could easily go down.
Then there are the players that they've lost.
Ronald Leary and Doug Free are gone from the all-world offensive line, potentially being replaced by La'el Collins -- who has struggled to stay on the field in his two NFL seasons -- and former first-round bust Jonathan Cooper. On defense, the Cowboys have to replace J.J. Wilcox, Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Terrell McClain and Barry Church. They're mostly doing that with rookies like Taco Charlton, Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis -- which could be good or could tank an average defense.
Facing one of the most difficult schedules in the league, the Cowboys could have a hard time becoming the first team since 2004 to repeat as NFC East champions.
FO Projection: 13-3, SOS 27th
Be wary of any team whose success weighs heavily on the shoulders of a running back.
With Le'Veon Bell performing at top levels last season, the Steelers won eight games in a row from Week 11 to a division round playoff win over the Chiefs. (Bell sat out a meaningless Week 17 game, as did many of Pittsburgh's starters.) Bell averaged over 180 yards from scrimmage during that time and was dominant in the playoffs -- until a groin injury sidelined him early in the AFC championship game against the Patriots, a game which the Steelers ended up losing by 19 points.
Bell has already had offseason surgery with no timetable set for his return, and he has been given the franchise tag, which could make him even more cautious next season if he doesn't get a long-term deal. But that doesn't just fall on Bell's shoulders, because I believe that Pittsburgh is just too fragile in general. If one of their big three players goes down -- Bell, Ben Roethlisberger or Antonio Brown -- the rest of the house of cards goes with them. Roethlisberger has to be an even bigger concern, as the 35-year-old is not a stranger to getting hurt and impending retirement has been a topic of discussion all offseason for him.
On defense, Pittsburgh is either old, inexperienced or average. Who is the star on that side of the ball that carries the Steelers? Ryan Shazier? James Harrison? T.J. Watt? No Steelers player had more than five sacks or more than three interceptions, and they'll also have to replace Lawrence Timmons, a leader on that side of the ball for the past 10 seasons. Can Pittsburgh win 13 games? Yes. But it looks more like a 10-win team that may have lost ground to the Ravens.
Los Angeles Rams
FO Projection: 8-8, SOS 23rd
The idea of the Rams going 7-9 isn't just plausible, it's a meme. And 8-8 is only one game better than that, so why would it be a stretch too far to say that Los Angeles could get to .500? Well, for starters, the Rams haven't been 8-8 or better since 2006, and I have not seen any changes this year that would suggest they're likely to improve by four wins over last season.
The Rams were 4-12 in 2016 under Jeff Fisher, finally firing him with three games left to go, all of which were still losses. The biggest reason for their ineptitude last season is also somehow their biggest reason for hope: quarterback Jared Goff. The top overall pick in last year's draft, Goff had a historically bad rookie campaign, losing all seven of his starts and managing just five touchdown passes with a passer rating of 63.6. How many modern day quarterbacks were that bad as rookies?
The success story is Matthew Stafford, who went 2-8 as a rookie and threw 20 interceptions in 10 games with a rating of 61. The other QBs since 2009 to make at least 200 attempts as a rookie and post a rating below 70 are: Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Jimmy Clausen, Blaine Gabbert, Geno Smith and Blake Bortles. Sanchez, Freeman and Bortles all improved in Year 2, but not to a point of being totally relied upon with any comfort, and we know that they haven't gotten storybook endings, either.
Surely there is reason for optimism with new head coach Sean McVay and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, and any team with Aaron Donald is going to be frustrating to play against, but 8-8 seems a bit too hopeful and 2-14 is always in play because it's the Rams.
That's all I really needed to say, isn't it? It's the Rams.